D.C. Public Library has selected three teams of architects as finalists to design a renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. But when those teams present their designs in February, don’t expect any new insight into the shape of the future MLK. Each team is being asked to submit two designs: one for a mixed-use building with new floors, and one for a standalone library.

The overhaul of the city’s 41-year-old central library presents major challenges, including the need to preserve the historic character of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed building, which precludes major alterations to the obsolete building’s appearance. It’s been widely assumed that the redevelopment will include private functions in the building, likely above the existing library, to offset the cost of the renovation, but a group founded and funded by Ralph Nader has already expressed its opposition to such mixed-use development of the library. (The group may be open to additional civic uses in the building, though these would likely only make the project more expensive.)

For now, DCPL is taking a split-the-difference approach, requesting two designs and maintaining that no decisions have been made regarding the ultimate structure of the library building.  “While the ideas presented may not necessarily be the final concepts used,” DCPL interim chief library Joi Mecks says in a statement, “the overall process will help us pick the best team for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library renovation.”

Of the 26 architect teams that responded to DCPL’s initial solicitation in September, 10 were short-listed in October and invited to submit design concepts. Today, DCPL announced the three finalists: Mecanoo/Martinez + Johnson Architecture; Patkau Architects/Ayers Saint Gross with Krueck + Sexton; and STUDIOS Architecture/The Freelon Group.

The design ideas from those three teams will be displayed at MLK Library and neighborhood libraries and on the DCPL website in early February. The teams will present their proposals to the public at a Feb. 15 meeting.

This post has been updated to reflect the Ralph Nader group’s potential openness to additional civic uses in the library building.

Photo from DCPL’s request for qualifications